Olympic National Park: Lawsuit for Wrongful Death
When a 63-year-old Port Angeles man died from injuries he received after being attacked by a mountain goat in Olympic National Park in 2010, his family launched a wrongful death claim against the park for $10 million. The family said the park was responsible for the death and that they were negligent because they didn’t remove the goat in question after it had already chased and harassed other hikers.
In Oregon, a Portland wrongful death attorney will file a wrongful death claim in cases of extreme negligence, but in the case of the killer goat, the U.S. attorney’s offices said the park is not to blame.
The Seattle office of the U.S. attorney filed its response to the wrongful death lawsuit filed in November, 2011, by the family of Bob Boardman, the man who died of injuries sustained when he was gored through the thigh by an Olympic National Park goat. While a trial date for the wrongful death lawsuit has not yet been set, the official government line is that none of the park’s employees can be held liable, nor did they commit any negligent act that caused or contributed in any way to Boardman’s death.
No Witnesses Make Wrongful Death Claims Harder to Prove
After Boardman was attacked, park rangers shot and killed the goat that had attacked him. What is known in this case is that Boardman was hiking with his wife, Susan Chadd, and a mutual friend, Pat Willits. The trio was on the Switchback Trail to Klahhane Ridge and had stopped for lunch about 17 miles south of Port Angeles. At about 1:20 p.m., a goat began moving toward them and acting very aggressively.
Boardman urged his wife and Willits to move away while he tried to distract the goat and drive it away. The two women left the scene and went to find additional help. Willits told an off-duty park ranger, and Dr. Margaret Bangs, a local woman, said both women warned her not to go up because of the dangerous goat. Dr. Bangs said she looked up the path and saw Boardman with two walking sticks, but he’d been unable to either drive off the goat or get away from it.
Dr. Bangs said the goat was following closely after Boardman; she had to leave the scene to get a phone signal. An hour later, after Boardman had been gored through the thigh, rescue workers were trying to get close, but the goat refused to leave the area. Park spokesperson Barb Maynes said the accident was a tragedy, but “no one saw the injury happen. We know that there was some kind of encounter, but we don’t know exactly what transpired.”
It took a full group of people to scare the goat away, but the animal refused to completely leave the area and was still standing his ground an hour later. A Coast Guard helicopter finally got Boardman to Olympic Medical Center, but he was pronounced dead later in the afternoon.
Wrongful Death Claim Needs to Prove Negligence by National Park
To prove wrongful death in an Oregon case, a Portland wrongful death attorney would have to show extreme negligence, and that is what Boardman’s family is trying to show was taking place in Olympic National Park. They say the park knew there were aggressive goats that had followed and harassed hikers for some time before Boardman was attacked.
Maynes admitted, “We have had … reports that we can link to one individual goat; we also have reports of goats not moving off the trail or following people that are impossible to link to a specific goat.” She also admitted that the park had been receiving complaints about goats intimidating people for at least two years before Boardman was killed, but she didn’t know if the goat about which people had been complaining was the same one that gored Boardman.
Is that enough to prove negligence in a wrongful death claim?
As many as 600 goats roam the park, and officials say visitors have long been warned to keep their distance. Signs are posted to throw rocks at goats that get too close or appear as if they might be aggressive. Maynes seems to believe these warnings are enough. “Wild animals are unpredictable, and that is the most important message to get out to people. We tell people to be prepared to chase the goats away if they have shown more aggressive behaviors.”
Whether or not the Boardman family’s wrongful death lawsuit will be successful remains to be seen. Certainly there are two sides to the story, and both parties feel very strongly that they are in the right. In Oregon, wrongful death lawsuits are permitted under statute ORS 30.010-30.100.
It’s a very tricky area and one in which any party thinking of filing such a claim should have a very competent and experienced wrongful death attorney in Portland working on their behalf. They can advise you about the very strict statute of limitations, as well as the levels of compensation that can be claimed under your lawsuit. What’s more, they’ll guide you through the entire process from beginning to end.